North Dakota lawmakers debate statewide sports betting legalization

The North Dakota House Judiciary Committee has debated whether to allow voters to decide on the expansion of legalized sports betting.
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The North Dakota House Judiciary Committee has debated whether to allow voters to decide on the expansion of legalized sports betting in the state next year, per the Associated Press.

Currently, the Peace Garden State only allows tribal casino operators to offer sports betting, and the state only has one legal sportsbook at the 4 Bears Casino & Lodge. Online sports betting on mobile devices is allowed within reservation boundaries, but not outside of them.

Last year, Republican Gov. Doug Burgum signed agreements with North Dakota’s American Indian tribes for several measures, including lowering the legal gambling age from 21 to 19 at tribal-owned casinos. 

The state’s five tribes also asked for exclusive rights to host internet gambling and sports betting outside the reservations, but this was denied by Burgum since sports betting isn’t legal statewide.

For sports wagering to be legalized throughout North Dakota, a change is required to the state constitution. If passed, the public would then decide whether to authorize the changes or not. 

Regardless, the public will have to wait at least two more years before sports betting is legalized, as they won’t be able to vote on the matter until the November 2024 general election.

Should the public vote yes to legalization, lawmakers in 2025 would then go over the finer details of how to regulate sports betting.

The committee recommended against the passage of sports betting statewide, but the resolution will receive a floor vote in the future anyway.

“Passage of this resolution does not legalize sports betting,” said Republican Rep. Greg Stemen of Fargo to the Judiciary Committee. 

“It simply allows the voters of North Dakota to determine whether they want to legalize sports betting when they vote in the November 2024 general election.”

Stemen noted that illegal sports betting is already present in North Dakota, meaning the state is missing out on millions of dollars in tax revenue from having an unregulated market.

However, there is opposition, as both Jacob Thomsen – Policy Analyst with North Dakota Family Alliance Legislative Action – and Mark Hagerott – Chancellor of the North Dakota University System – are against the resolution.

Thomsen believes legalized sports betting would make problem gambling a bigger issue in the state and that the trade-off for an increase in state revenue is not worth it.

Meanwhile, Hagerott is against sports wagering as the current resolution doesn’t specify if bets on college sports can be placed.

“Sports betting potentially undermines the integrity of the game and renders unpaid athletes vulnerable to money flowing through their respective games and contingent on their performance,” explained Hagerott.

Pat Gibbs, National Public Policy Counsel for the Sports Betting Alliance stated that the issues raised by Thomsen and Hagerott would be addressed in future debates, adding that the current resolution “simply starts the conversation”.

He stated: “To maximize state revenue, enhance user convenience, and best attack illegal offshore sports betting websites that currently operate in North Dakota, the legislature should authorize and regulate competitive statewide mobile sports betting.”

The committee’s Chairman, Republican Rep. Lawrence Klemin of Bismarck, said lawmakers address concerns regarding college sports by amending the resolution to only allow betting on professional sports.

Since PASPA was repealed in 2018, North Dakota has twice attempted to legalize sports betting, failing in 2019 and 2021.